Can I Get Social Security Disability for Depression and Anxiety?

By / April 2, 2017 / Apply for SSD / 47 Comments

You may be able to get SSDI for severe depression and anxiety, if you can prove your symptoms are truly disabling. We explain the steps you must take to have your case approved if you are qualified.

Winning a successful disability claim on the basis of depression or anxiety is difficult, unless your symptoms are severe and you can prove they are debilitating enough to interfere with your work and personal life.

Documentation could include medical treatments and consultations from recognized medical practitioners and facilities, a treatment history for your symptoms, and a work record which reflects a disrupted work schedule due to your medical condition. Below are several approaches to supporting your claim.

The Effects of Depression and Anxiety
Depression and anxiety are terrible afflictions that can completely turn your life on its head. There are treatments for these illnesses, however often they become long, drawn out intervention plans that may not be completely effective. Dealing with such medical problems can be overwhelming, but adding financial pressures because of lost time at work or medical costs just make the situation worse. Nonetheless, there could be help in the way of payments to you through Social Security Disability.

Depression is the most common non-fatal medical condition leading to disability in America. The World Health Organization has identified depression as the number one cause of disability in the world with over 300 million sufferers.

Depression causes a person to feel a significant state of sadness, guilt, inadequacy, dejection, and despondency. Along with such feelings there maybe insomnia, restless sleep, lack of energy, reduced or no sexual desire, and appetite loss. These commonly accompany this condition.

Anxiety is another frequently seen emotional condition. It is similar to depression in that the symptoms may include a sense of foreboding, obsessive thoughts, fear, or panic. The symptoms could also include uncontrollable sweating, nausea, increased heart rate, or shaking.

Causes of Depression or Anxiety
Although it is not clear, family genes or other biological reasons may cause or influence depression. It is not uncommon to see these conditions shared by members of the same family.

Depression may be caused by expected changes in your life, such as divorce, a death, or a job change, however, these normally resolve themselves within a relatively short period. However, if such a severe mood lasts every day for two-weeks or longer, see a doctor as this may be a medically diagnosed condition of major clinical depression.

Anxiety may come for no apparent reason. If left untreated, the person may refuse to leave their home for fear of triggering an episode, for example. Both these conditions may prevent you from performing your normal work activities, your daily family responsibilities, or normal functions of your life.

Anxiety Disorders
There are five types of recognized anxiety disorders.

  • Panic Attack
    Repeated and unprovoked feelings of panic or terror lasting ten minutes or less. For approved Social Security Administration (SSA) benefits, the incidents must occur on the average of once per week.
  • General Anxiety Disorder
    Approximately six months of near constant state of worry, not related to a single event.
  • Social Phobia/Anxiety
    Irrational feelings making a person fearful of events, social settings, or objects leading the person to avoid them.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
    Witnessing or being a part of a traumatic situation which causes repeated bouts of stress which last more than one month.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
    Repetitive thoughts and feelings forcing the person to repeat a task or behavior over and over again. This must cause severe distress for a claim to be approved.

Social Security Disability Claim for Depression or Anxiety
Depression and anxiety can be difficult to prove because there is no laboratory test to establish these problems, so it becomes a subjective judgment. Experts must rely on a patient’s words to express their feelings; however there are a number of ways to make your claim more concrete.

The actual conditions of depression or anxiety do not concern the SSA nearly as much as how those conditions are impacting your ability to work. To be eligible for benefits, you must be prevented from engaging at a substantial gainful activity (SGA) during a continuous twelve month period. Another way of qualifying is if your health conditions are expected to prevent you from meeting the SGA for twelve consecutive months.

Substantial gainful activity is defined by the SSA as mental or physical impairments (either or both) that prevent you from performing the functional requirements of SGA.

Path of Your Claim
There are two methods for the SSA to make a determination on the validity of your claim for benefits. One method uses a Blue Book with various serious medical conditions and associated impairments. This provides a quick look for the Disability Examiner to assess whether you meet the requirements for depression or anxiety.

Using this method, you would need any four of the following impairments:

  • Lack of energy
  • Suppressed or enhanced appetite
  • Lack of interest in general activities
  • Difficulty in focusing on a task or in clear thinking
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Lack in any physical activity
  • Fatigue
  • Guilt or feelings with worthlessness, or
  • Hallucinations, paranoia, or delusions

Coupled with these, there must be a lack of social interaction, problems with focusing, extended and reoccurring periods with symptoms becoming worse, and problems with activities of daily living (ADL).

Medical-Vocational Allowance
The second method of obtaining an approval for your claim involves the issue of a Medical-Vocational Allowance.

The first assessment using this method on a new claim concerns the current income level for the SGA of the applicant. This figure may change every year. For 2017, the SSA has set the amount at $1,170 gross earned income per month and if you are blind the amount is $1,950. These figures also include income from self-employment. If you are earning this amount or more, filing a claim will not accomplish anything. Your claim would be almost immediately denied at the local office and not assigned a Disability Examiner for forwarding through the system. They call this a technical denial.

However, your status could change, for example if your health conditions become worse and you begin earning less than those threshold figures. In that case, filing a claim is appropriate.

The claim would then be sent for a medical decision to the disability agency at the state level. These are usually called Disability Determination Services. A specialist is assigned to evaluate the claim and is the Disability Examiner for your case.

Medical Records
This examiner will review your file and obtain the relevant medical records that were submitted during your initial interview. For a claim specifying depression or anxiety as a source, medical records from certified or licensed mental health professionals would be best. This could include records of examinations or treatments from psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health clinics, or hospitals.

Make certain your doctor’s report has sufficient details as to how your symptoms affect your daily life and how effective the treatment plan turned out to be. If you were prescribed medication but chose not to take it, the SSA may use this against approving your claim, however not being able to afford the medication would be an acceptable reason.

If your current doctors are licensed therapists or social workers, you should be aware the SSA can give opinions from those professionals less weight than certified psychiatrists or psychologists. During the time your claim is reviewed, carry on with your regular consultations and treatment plan to continue building your medical file.

Alcohol or drug problems can send your claim completely off course. The Disability Examiner (DE) may reach a conclusion your depression or anxiety is solely from that addiction. However, a statement from your doctor could help by saying the addiction is unrelated to your mental health. In addition, if you have a documented period when you were sober but still suffered from depression or anxiety, this would strengthen your case.

Even without such records, a claim could still be submitted and approved. The Disability Examiner would likely specify a one-time consultation to be completed by a doctor the SSA pays for and approves. The downside to this method is it is not likely to produce a favorable result for you as far as approving your claim. The reason is that the doctor will only be seeing you one time and will not really be able to determine how your condition limits your work activity.

To avoid having your case rely only upon the DE ordered exam, your best chance of winning a claim approval is with thorough documentation of examinations, consultations, medications, and a complete medical history of your condition. Couple those with all your work records showing how your work activity has been affected.

Criteria for Claim Approval
For the SSA to approve a claim for depression or anxiety, you must meet three criteria.

  • You must suffer from an inability to function in the work environment even after a small change in routine or from small differences in mental demands.
  • This non-functioning situation must last for an extended period.
  • If you have a very supportive living arrangement and you are still unable to function at a normal level and there is no indication this will change.

Step-by-Step Medical-Vocational Approval

  1. You must not be earning the SGA level or above.
  2. The condition you suffer must be one which is medically diagnosable.
  3. If the condition is able to be diagnosed medically, is it severe or non-severe (such as a sprained ankle)?
  4. Your condition must have lasted at least two years.
  5. Your employment record will be analyzed to determine if you are able to return to any of your applicable jobs held previously by you in the last 15 years.
  6. If the answer is no, the SSA will seek to determine if there are other different jobs you would be suitable to perform based on your age, work history, education, skills, and your current physical and mental capacities.

If the answer to the last question is no, then the SSA may approve you for a Medical-Vocational Approval. This is the most common benefit approval in these types of situations.

The actual evaluation of your claim depends where in the process your claim is located. Either Disability Examiners or judges at a disability hearing will be the evaluators.

Evaluating Limitations
Your mental / physical limitations are evaluated in the following ways:

  • Your work and earning history
  • Your medical history
  • Physical tests to determine your actual capacity for work
  • Mental tests to determine your actual capacity for work

Summary
If benefits are approved, a hearing called a continuing disability review (CDR) may be conducted in the future to determine the validity of continuing the payments.

If your claim is ultimately denied, strongly consider getting the advice from an attorney who specializes in depression and anxiety disability claims. They could provide you with a professional opinion if an appeal would be worthwhile.

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  • You are welcome, Linda.

  • You are welcome, Diane, and thank you.

  • Dear Linda,

    Requests for reconsideration typically take from two to five months.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • Dear Linda,

    As I mentioned previously, I recommend that you request a copy of your claim file and consult with a Social Security on how best to appeal the denials.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • Dear Linda,

    As indicated earlier, I suggest that you request a copy of your claim file and that you hire an experienced Social Security attorney to assist with your appeal.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • Dear Diane,

    It is likely your brother will be approved effective January 2016 because his later work was short unsuccessful work attempts and also he did not earn enough for the work to be substantial gainful activity. You just need to get the facts to SSA.

    Fill out the form as if your brother were completing it. Indicate that your brother did not understand what date to claim. Changed the claimed date to the day after he last worked from home in January 2016. Describe what let up to the firing as you described to me. Use the W-2’s to get the names of employers and list each separately. Estimate the dates or at least the number of months or weeks at each job. Attach a copy of the W-2’s and the tax form to show that you are submitting all the W-2’s and explain why he has no pay stubs. Be sure to indicate that these jobs sign twirling and posting ads ended in hospitalization.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • You are welcome, Linda.

  • Dear Linda,

    The representatives are not supposed to give out decision information over the phone. Please see my response of earlier today to your last post.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • Dear Linda,

    Procedural rules prohibit giving out the decision (approval or denial) over the phone. The first person you spoke to may have broken the rule. If you are in fact denied, I strongly suggest that you that you hire an experienced Social Security attorney to help with your appeal. Also I suggest that you request a copy of your claim file so you can see the exact reasons for the denial and see whether they had all your medical records and

    When you hire a Social Security attorney, you do not have to pay any legal fees up front and you will pay attorney fees only if you are approved for benefits. Social Security law sets the amount the attorney can charge and the Social Security Administration pays the attorney directly from your back pay.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • You are welcome, Linda.

  • Dear Linda,

    That means that your claim was not sent for a quality assurance review; rather it was probably sent for a review by a physician at the Disability Determination Services (DDS). If that is the case, the examiner recommended a decision, but it will not be finalized until the doctor reviews the decision and your medical evidence. In other words, the decision is still pending. How much longer it takes will depend on how busy the DDS is.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • You are welcome, Sarah.

  • Dear Linda,

    I do not have the information you are requesting because approvals and denials are not tracked by Disability Advisor.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • Dear Linda,

    There is no way to know the decision until you are notified.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • You are welcome, Linda.

  • Dear Linda,

    A certain percentage of claims are randomly selected for review to be sure that the claims examiners are making correct decisions and following correct procedures.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • Dear Sarah,

    No, if you covered the information in your initial application, no supplemental statement is needed.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • Dear Diane,

    You are welcome. (I am not sure what is meant by “accounting.” I have not heard that term used.)

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • Dear Linda,

    Please see my response to your first posting of this question.

    Thank you,
    Kay

  • Dear Linda,

    It may mean that a decision was made and then the claim was randomly selected for a quality assurance review to make sure the decision was correct and correctly documented.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • You are welcome, Linda.

  • Dear Linda,

    I am unable to estimate how long it will take for the agency to complete the review of your claim.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • Dear Diane,

    Your brother can sign an SSA-1696 and appoint you his representative only to handle the filing and processing of his claim. (It is the same form people use to appoint an attorney to represent them when filing a claim or appeal.)

    If your brother’s claim is approved and he needs a payee, the determination of need for a payee will be part of the approval. In that circumstance, benefits will not be paid until he has a representative payee. So, if he needs a payee, waiting to apply would not be a viable option.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • Dear Linda,

    Yes, I did. I posted your message. I did not respond because you did not ask a question.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • Dear Sarah,

    Based on the information you have provided, it is possible that you are disabled due to your depression and it is possible that you could be approved on initial application. If you have not done so as yet, I suggest submitting a statement about the types of problems you had on each of the jobs you have had. I you were let go due to poor attendance or other disability-related problems, you might try to get statements from past supervisors to support your statements.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • You are welcome, Linda.

  • You are welcome, Linda.

  • Dear Linda,

    Your earnings are at a level below Substantial Gainful Activity (SGA), so they should not interfere with your being found disabled. The write up for unsatisfactory performance can be submitted. It may not be needed because of your lower earnings, but it doesn’t hurt to submit it with a cover letter that explains how your medical condition contributed to the complaint.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • Dear Linda,

    It is unlikely that your employer will be contacted. There are circumstances that employers are contacted in work earnings investigations, but those situations are usually when there is a problem with correct reporting of earnings for insured status or in fraud investigations. Otherwise, your submission of pay stubs is sufficient proof without third-party verification.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • Dear Linda,

    Based on the information in your last post, it seems as if there was a delay in sending your claim to the Disability Determination Services (DDS) in that you were given the information that the DDS examiner received the file on March 24. If that is the case, it could easily take another couple months to get a decision. You might try calling the examiner to point out that took over five months for your claim to be forwarded to DDS and ask if the review can be expedited.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

    • Linda Camagna Simon

      Thank you so much Kay I will do that 😊

    • Linda Camagna Simon

      I spoke to the examiner she said waiting on doc notes from to of my counselors for depression And anxiety…She has MRI results I have spondylolisthesis on low back now going for mid back MRI soon cause that’s where pain starts …dec 5 is when she got paperwork and ssi cause I got denied and she reinstated it cause I don’t have funds in bank…Do u think there’s an approval between my neck and my back and for depression and anxiety …Sorry for being a pain…

      • Dear Linda,

        I am not able to say whether or not you will be approved; however, people are approved for a combination of symptoms that together keep them from working in any occupation. I suggest that you follow up with your counselor to get the requested notes submitted.

        Sincerely,
        Kay

        • Linda Camagna Simon

          Will my working 10 hrs affect my claim?

          • Dear Linda,

            It depends on how much you are earning per hour. If your earnings come to less than $1,170 gross wages and the amount you are working is really the maximum you can work, then the work should not keep you from being approved.

            Sincerely,
            Kay

  • You are welcome, Linda.

  • Linda Camagna Simon
    • Dear Linda,

      The status just means that no decision has been made on your claim. It is still being reviewed. The status will stay the same until a decision is made.

      Sincerely,
      Kay

  • Dear Linda,

    It sounds as if they are allowing a lot of time for processing and are talking about when you will get the first payment, not when back benefits would begin to accrue.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

    • Linda Camagna Simon

      Hi Kay, They didn’t say I was approved yet though…I called and left her a message the DDS…not sure what’s going on frustrating cause last time I was denied over the gain and now the medical is there…Thx for your help and time do you work for SSI?Cause you seem to know a lot Thanx again😊

      • Dear Linda,

        You are welcome. I don’t currently work for the Social Security Administration.

        Sincerely,
        Kay

    • Linda Camagna Simon

      I just sent you it just says processing it hast changed not sure…

      • Dear Linda,

        Please see my response to your post of the online status report.

        Sincerely,
        Kay

  • Dear Angela,

    I respond to questions only on the website. I have removed your email address to protect your privacy. I think there may be some confusion or an error. I suggest you call the office that sent you the request for vocational information and let them know that you were approved at a hearing.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • Dear Linda,

    I can’t tell what is going on from the information that you have provided. (It would make more sense to me if you had to wait till July for Social Security Disability [SSDI] and to call regarding Supplemental Security Income [SSI].) I suggest that you call the office and find out the reason for the call related to your SSDI and ask for clarification of why your SSI claim is being deferred until July.

    Sincerely,
    Kay

  • Dear Diane,

    The correspondence doesn’t seem to indicate any specific decision; however, based on your description of your brother’s condition and the documentation you have been submitting, I would expect him to be approved and I would expect him to need to have a representative payee, which you would apply to be at that time. However, currently, if your brother has appointed you to represent him in filing his claim (completed an SSA-1696 to appoint you), all correspondence regarding his claim should be coming to you. If he hasn’t completed an SSA-1696, he can do so at any time his claim is still pending.)

    Sincerely,
    Kay

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